Tuesday Reads: GA 6th, GOP “Health Care” Bill, and Russia News

Jon Ossoff with supporters in Georgia’s 6th District

Good Morning!!

Today is election day in Georgia’s 6th District, and the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel is tied. The Washington Post reports: Georgia special election: Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.

Polls in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District opened at 7 a.m. on a humid morning, with commuters casting ballots with iced coffees in their hands on their way to child-care centers, office parks and downtown Atlanta.

Back in Washington, party leaders — and Trump — were paying close attention to what has become the most expensive House race in history, hoping to make the case by day’s end that they were better positioned to jump-start Trump’s stalled agenda on Capitol Hill — or thwart it.

“KAREN HANDEL FOR Congress,” Trump tweeted as day broke Tuesday, touting the Republican candidate and former Georgia secretary of state. “She will fight for lower taxes, great health care strong security — a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY!”

Democrats spoke excitedly about Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, a polished former congressional staffer who has raised more than $23 million and built a devoted grassroots following, all while courting Republicans by bemoaning “wasteful” spending. They see his competitive candidacy in ruby-red suburbia as a possible harbinger ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when Democrats need to win 24 GOP-held seats to reclaim the House majority.

Republican candidate Karen Handel and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff exchange words moments before Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election debate, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

Specifically, the race is being seen in Washington as a referendum on the awful GOP “health care” bill.

Republicans are laboring to agree on legislation to revise the Affordable Care Act. A GOP win on Tuesday could bring new momentum to their push to pass a bill in the Senate, while a defeat could embolden those who are concerned about the bill to more forcefully oppose it.

Handel and Ossoff are vying to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, who held it from 2005 until he joined Trump’s Cabinet this year as health and human services secretary.

At The Cut, Rebecca Traister writes about how women are leading the fight for Democrats in Georgia’s 6th: Can the New Activist Passion of Suburban White Women Change American Politics?

At Hearth, a restaurant in Sandy Springs, Georgia, about 30 people — most of them women, most of them white — are sitting at a long table on Saturday night, drinking white wine and beer, scarfing pizzas and salads and talking at a frenzied pitch. One woman is describing, with a tired smile on her face, the contours of her life these days: “If I’m not knocking doors, I’m making calls; if I’m not making calls, I’m writing postcards; if I’m not writing postcards, I’m replacing my lawn sign.” Everyone laughs. “They can’t believe we live here,” says another woman, in reference to the local media and local Republican Party. “They think we must be shipped in from California, because we can’t be their neighbors.”

These women do live here, in Georgia’s affluent, suburban, predominantly white sixth district, where a special election to replace Republican congressman Tom Price, whom Donald Trump tapped to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has drawn the attention of the nation. They are dedicating their time — in many cases, nearly all their time — to campaigning for Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democrat who came within spitting distance of winning a majority in April, and is now facing Republican Karen Handel in the runoff, which will take place on Tuesday. That Ossoff has come as close as he has is a startling signal of liberal vigor in Trump’s America: The sixth district is a longtime conservative stronghold that has sent Republicans to Congress since 1979; Price won his November reelection by 23 points. But in the days before the runoff, Ossoff is polling neck and neck with Handel; many on the ground don’t even venture a prediction of what’s going to happen, calling the outcome a “coin flip.”

Especially surprising is that the closeness of the race can largely be attributed to the obsessive energies of the sixth district’s women, an army of mostly white, suburban working mothers who had until now lived politically somnambulant lives. In the wake of Donald Trump’s November defeat of Hillary Clinton, many of these Georgia women have remade their lives, transforming themselves and their communities through unceasing political engagement. To visit Georgia’s sixth in the days before the runoff is to land on a planet populated by politically impassioned women, talking as if they have just walked off the set of Thelma & Louise, using a language of awakening, liberation, and political fury that should indeed discomfit their conservative neighbors, and — if it is a harbinger of what’s to come — should shake conservative America more broadly.

“No matter the outcome on Tuesday, the real story of this campaign is the story of women organizing, standing up, fighting,” Jon Ossoff tells me from his campaign’s Chamblee office two days before the runoff.
“There’s something of a renaissance of civic engagement and political activism afoot, and it’s being led by women.”

A few bits and pieces of the GOP “health care” bill are leaking out, and they are horrifying.

Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times: In secret Obamacare repeal bill, Senate Republicans plan even harsher cuts to Medicaid than House GOP.

In the all-out quest for ways to strip health coverage from millions of people in order to deliver a huge tax cut to the richest Americans, Senate Republicans have been regarded as more moderate than their House colleagues. But a proposal leaked from the Senate GOP’s closed-door drafting sessions on an Obamacare repeal bill may put that notion to rest: The Senate is contemplating a change in Medicaid that would cut it even more than the $830-billion proposed by the House.

That news comes from The Hill, which reported Monday that the Senate is contemplating imposing a lower inflation growth rate on Medicaid, which would be capped in both proposals. The Senate’s idea is to allow Medicaid to grow at the rate of the overall consumer price index (specifically, the CPI for all urban consumers, the most commonly used variant).

That’s a much lower growth rate than the index in the American Health Care Act, which House Republicans passed in May as a measure to repeal the the Affordable Care Act. The House caps growth in the Medicaid budget at the CPI for medical care, which grows much faster.

The difference would produce a massively larger cut in Medicaid than the House bill. That’s remarkable, because the House bill would drive 14 million people out of Medicaid by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate version, which hasn’t been presented in its entirely to the CBO because it’s still being worked on in secret, is certain to cost many more Americans their coverage.

Please go read the rest at the above link. Read more about what is believed to be in the bill at the Washington Post: The Health 202: Here’s what we know about the Senate health-care bill. But the simple truth is that the purpose of this bill is to transfer money from needy people to a few super-rich families.

Huffington Post: The Not-So-Secret Truth About the Senate GOP’s Secret Health Care Bill.

Senate Republicans are hurling themselves toward passing an incredibly unpopular set of health care reforms that even they don’t understand, haven’t seen and likely won’t see until just before it hits the floor.

This rightly has raised the hackles not only of Senate Democrats and the media, but anyone who values transparency in government or is anxious about the consequences of reordering the American health care system and taking away health coverage from millions of people.

But as important as the legislation’s details will turn out out to be, there’s a simple, fundamental, incontrovertible fact about whatever the Senate health care reform bill winds up looking like: The purpose of this bill is to dramatically scale back the safety net so wealthy people and health care companies can get a massive tax cut….

That’s true of the House-passed version of the American Health Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office projects would lead to 23 million fewer people being insured over the next decade, severely weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and put health coverage out of reach for older, sicker and poorer people who won’t be able to afford insurance or, in some cases, to even access it at any price.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his handpicked cohort of backroom negotiators are advancing a measure that will look pretty much like the House legislation and do pretty much the same thing. McConnell wants a vote before July 4, and he’ll probably get it if something doesn’t alter the trajectory. There’s little Democrats can do beyond try to slow Senate business to a crawl to draw out the process and keep health care in the public eye for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to cozy up to Putin as the Russia investigation continues. This story at Newsweek is just unbelievable: Rex Tillerson to Work with Russia on Cybersecurity (Even After Hacking).

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly has a three-point plan to both improve relations and work with Russia, one of which includes facing global threats posed by the Syrian civil war, the proliferation of North Korea’s missile and defense program and a third that could seem strange to some: Cybersecurity and cyber-espionage.

A BuzzFeed report published Monday detailed the former ExxonMobil CEO turned U.S. statesman’s plan, which included each side vowing to avoid “aggressive actions” that wouldn’t be productive for anyone as well as a third point called “strategic stability” meant to bundle together problems the two superpowers face.

But the second tenet, aimed at cybersecurity and cyberespionage, seems particularly odd given not only the investigations surrounding President Donald Trump and his former campaign but also the conclusion reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia intentionally meddled in last year’s election in order to ascend Trump’s candidacy.

Please go check out this story and the one at BuzzFeed too.

News on the Russia investigation:

Bijan Kian (center) worked on Trump transition

Talking Points Memo: Report: Feds Now Interested In Flynn’s Former Business Partner.

Federal investigators are now interested in the role Bijan Kian, co-founder of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s consulting firm, played in their lobbying work, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The report was based on information from an anonymous individual recently interviewed by the FBI, who said that agents from the criminal division asked as many questions about Kian and his involvement with a lobbying contract carried out by the firm that primarily benefitted the Turkish government as they did about Flynn.

Kian was responsible for securing and carrying out that work for Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, as Reuters and the Associated Press have reported. It netted Flynn Intel Group $530,000. Two other sources with knowledge of the probe told Reuters that investigators were looking at whether the payments Flynn and his firm received from foreign clients were lawful and whether they made the proper disclosures with the federal government to perform this work.

Both men retroactively registered as foreign agents for their Turkey lobbying, which involved producing negative public relations materials about an exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt last summer.

Flynn likely talking to FBI

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, believes that Flynn is likely cooperating with the FBI. From Real Clear Politics:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island suggests that fired national security Mike Flynn has made a deal with the FBI and will testify against President Trump….

“All the signals are suggesting [Flynn] is already cooperating with the FBI, and may have been for some time. First of all, they had him dead to rights on a felony false statement, on the statement they took from him at the White House on the Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperators is get them to go back and clean up areas of non-compliance. Flynn, who will never be hired by a foreign government again, went back and cleaned up his foreign agent filings. Third, all of the reporting of the Eastern District of VA on subpoenas is one hop away from Flynn. He is the hole in a donut of subpoenas,” he sad.

He continued: “One of the most talkative people in Trumpland [Flynn] has gone absolutely silent. That is exactly what a prosecutor would strongly encourage a cooperating witness to do… in order to avoid lengthy imprisonment.”

“It could be a huge deal. Who knows what Trump has said to him?” Whitehouse speculated. “Both during the campaign and the early days of the presidency.”

I’m running out of space, but I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Seven U.S. Sailors are missing following a collision off the coast of Japan. NBC News: 7 U.S. Sailors Unaccounted for After Navy Destroyer Collides With Ship Off Japan.

The USS Fitzgerald, a 505-foot destroyer, collided with a Philippine container vessel at approximately 2:30 a.m. Saturday local time (1:30 p.m. ET Friday), about 56 nautical miles off Yokosuka, the U.S. 7th Fleet said.

The ship, which had experienced some flooding after the collision, was tugged back to Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo, early Saturday.

Meanwhile search and rescue efforts by U.S. and Japanese aircraft and boats were underway in the area where the vessels collided.

The U.S. Navy said damaged areas of the ship will also be searched for the seven unaccounted-for sailors after the ship is safely docked.

“Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the Sailors,” Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement. “We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance.”

More details from The Washington Post:

The operators of the merchant ship, ACX Crystal, reported all of the 20-member Filipino crew were safe….

The Philippine-flagged Crystal is nearly four times as large as the Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided-missile destroyer. Japanese and U.S. vessels and aircraft fanned out across the scene of the collision, about 12 miles off Japan’s Izu peninsula. The Japanese coast guard led the search teams.

USS Fitzgerald arrives at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. TORU HANAI / Reuters

Three of the Fitzgerald’s crew, including the destroyer’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, were evacuated from the damaged vessel and are being treated at the U.S. naval hospital at Yokosuka, the home of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

Benson was reported to be in stable condition, while the other two were still having their injuries assessed. The Seventh Fleet had set up an information center for families of sailors serving on the ship.

The USS Dewey, another Navy destroyer and two naval tugboats were at the scene, about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka. Two Japanese coast guard cutters with helicopters were helping with the search.

The Crystal, which is fully loaded with cargo, is bound for Tokyo, according to a website that tracks maritime traffic. Nippon Yusen K.K., the Japanese shipping company that operates the container ship.

The Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer commissioned in 1995, is part of the Yokosuka-based group that includes the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, but it was operating independently of the carrier when the collision occurred, Flanders said.

It still is not clear how the vessels collided, but one thing we know is that “President” Trump’s unfilled appointments could be a problem for those trying to find the missing sailors and determine the cause of this tragedy. The Guardian reports: USS Fitzgerald collision: Trump criticised for leaving key posts unfilled.

Donald Trump has been criticised for delays in appointing a navy secretary and ambassador to Japan, leaving a communications vacuum as the countries continued their search for seven missing sailors off the east coast of Japan.

The commanding officer of the USS Fitzgerald, Bryce Benson, and two other crew were injured after the vessel collided with a Philippine-registered container ship before dawn on Saturday.

The US has been without an ambassador to Japan since Caroline Kennedy left Tokyo in January.

William Hagerty, nominated but not yet confirmed as Ambassador to Japan

Her successor, the Tennessee businessman William Hagerty, has attended a Senate confirmation hearing but has yet to take up his post.

Brandon Friedman, a former Obama administration official and co-founder of the McPherson Square Group, a strategic communications firm in Washington, pointed to the absence of an ambassador and navy secretary – two officials who would be expected to take a lead in liaising between the US navy, and Japanese and US government officials during the search.

“The USS Fitzgerald might sink off Japan and the US President can’t call our ambassador or our navy secretary because we have neither,” Friedman said.

Trump’s nominee for US navy secretary, Richard Spencer, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

The “president” has been too busy tweeting and raking in money from foreign governments to attend to his constitutional duties. According to Max Boot at Foreign Policy, he is also “proving to be too stupid to be president.”

I’m starting to suspect that Donald Trump may not have been right when he said, “You know, I’m like a smart person.” The evidence continues to mount that he is far from smart — so far, in fact, that he may not be capable of carrying out his duties as president.

There is, for example, the story of how Trump met with the pastors of two major Presbyterian churches in New York. “I did very, very well with evangelicals in the polls,” he bragged. When the pastors told Trump they weren’t evangelicals, he demanded to know, “What are you then?” They told him they were mainline Presbyterians. “But you’re all Christians?” he asked. Yes, they had to assure him, Presbyterians are Christians. The kicker: Trump himself is Presbyterian.

Trump claims he originated the saying “priming the pump.”

Or the story of how Trump asked the editors of the Economist whether they had ever heard of the phrase “priming the pump.” Yes, they assured him, they had. “I haven’t heard it,” Trump continued. “I mean, I just … I came up with it a couple of days ago, and I thought it was good.” The phrase has been in widespread use since at least the 1930s.

Or the story of how, after arriving in Israel from Saudi Arabia, Trump told his hosts, “We just got back from the Middle East.”

These aren’t examples of stupidity, you may object, but of ignorance. This has become a favorite talking point of Trump’s enablers. House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, excused Trump’s attempts to pressure FBI Director James Comey into dropping a criminal investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on the grounds that “the president’s new at this” and supposedly didn’t realize that he was doing anything wrong. But Trump has been president for nearly five months now, and he has shown no capacity to learn on the job.

More broadly, Trump has had a lifetime — 71 years — and access to America’s finest educational institutions (he’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he never tires of reminding us) to learn things. And yet he doesn’t seem to have acquired even the most basic information that a high school student should possess. Recall that Trump said that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.” He also claimed that Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War, “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.”

Read the rest at Foreign Policy.

Think Progress on all those emoluments: Trump details how he’s profiting off the presidency.

New financial disclosure forms provide insight into where and how Donald Trump has reaped profits since he launched his bid for the presidency.

The 98-page filing with the Office of Government Ethics, released on Friday afternoon, provides an incomplete snapshot of Trump’s financial picture. But since Trump has broken presidential precedent by refusing to release his taxes, it’s the closest look into his investments the public has gotten so far.

The documents provide financial information for the period of time between last January and this spring — encompassing the lead-up to the presidential election and Trump’s transition into the White House.

Trump’s sprawling business empire is difficult to definitively quantify. However, the filings do show that the properties Trump has visited frequently as president have seen significant gains in income, the D.C. hotel at the center of an ethical controversy has generated millions in revenue, and the royalties for Trump’s books have soared.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he spent most of his weekendsimmediately after his inauguration, returned millions more in income after his campaign and subsequent election. Trump reported about $16 million in profits for Mar-a-Lago in his report filed in 2015, about $30 million in his report filed in 2016, and about $37 million in his most recent report.

Trump didn’t hide the fact that his presidency made Mar-a-Lago a more profitable venture for him. The initiation fee for the so-called “Winter White House” doubled to $200,000 — a figure that doesn’t include taxes and $14,000 annual dues — immediately after Trump was inaugurated.

Please click on the link and read the rest.

I’m sure you’ve already heard about this story, but it’s important to take note of it. In Trump’s America, police officer can kill unarmed black people on video and still evade punishment. Slate: Philando Castile’s Killer Acquitted Despite Forensics That Contradicted His Case.

Philando Castile’s killer, police officer Jeromino Yanez, was acquitted of manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm on Friday. The case of Castile’s shooting last July in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota had sparked mass protests after his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds posted a dramatic and wrenching video of the shooting’s aftermath. The video, taken with Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter in the car, included footage of Castile lying in a puddle of blood after he was struck five times from seven shots.

Castile had informed the officer that he was carrying a firearm, for which he had a permit. Shortly thereafter, Yanez opened fire. In his opening statement, Yanez’s defense attorney claimed that Castile was holding his gun when he was shot.

Philando Cast

“He has his hand on the gun,” Engh reportedly said during opening arguments. “The next command is, ‘Don’t pull it out.’ … [Yanez] can’t retreat … But for Mr. Castile’s continuous grip on the handgun, we would not be here.”

The prosecution argued that the 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor with no violent criminal record was reaching for his driver’s license—as Yanez had instructed—and not his gun when he was shot. The forensic evidence and Reynold’s testimony would both seem to back up the prosecution’s account and rebut the defense’s version. Reynolds testified that he was trying to unbuckle his seatbelt so that he could get out his wallet and driver’s license when he was shot. As the Associated Press reported, this was supported by forensics:

Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen highlighted autopsy evidence in his closing argument, reminding the jury of a bullet wound to what would have been Castile’s trigger finger — and that there was no corresponding bullet damage nor wounds in the area of Castile’s right shorts pocket, where he carried his gun. He also cited testimony from first responders who saw Castile’s gun in his pocket as he was loaded onto a backboard.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: Hours after officer Yanez is found not guilty in fatal shooting of Philando Castile, marchers close I-94.

After 27 hours of deliberation, a jury of seven men and five women reached a verdict in Philando Castile’s death. Eight hours later, after a march in St. Paul, hundreds went on the freeway, where some faced off with police before 18 were arrested.

A jury found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, whose livestreamed death during a traffic stop stunned a nation.

Castile’s family called the decision proof of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, while prosecutors cautioned the public to respect the jury’s verdict “because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.”

“I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota,” Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said at a news conference shortly after the verdict was read in court about 2:45 p.m. “My son loved this state. He had one tattoo on his body and it was of the Twin Cities — the state of Minnesota with TC on it. My son loved this city and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away.”

Castile’s girfriend Diamond Reynolds, who videotaped his murder.

Castile was a cafeteria worker who was very popular with the children he served. Twin Cities Pioneer Press: J.J. Hill school’s grief over Philando Castile’s death continues after verdict.

Philando Castile’s death last year rattled the J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School community.

Friday’s verdict acquitting the officer who fired the shots that killed the beloved school cafeteria worker brought no relief to their grief, parents contacted afterward said.

“I’m appalled, unbelievably sickened,” parent Chad Eisen Ramgren said about the verdict.

Castile — called “Mr. Phil” by the students — had worked at J.J. Hill for two years as nutrition services supervisor before he was fatally shot by St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop on July 6. A vigil and children’s march were held in the days after outside the school where his smile and kindness were recalled….

Families knew Mr. Phil as the man who gave their children high-fives in the lunch line and helped them with their lunch numbers.

More at the link.

I’ll have more links in the comment thread. Please join me in posting your thoughts and links.


Friday Afternoon Baby Animals Open Thread

Good Afternoon!

I just learned that Dakinikat is under the weather today, so I’m going to pull together some reading material for discussion. Here are some of the stories I’ve been reading today.

Of course there are lots of horrible articles about Trump and his efforts to destroy our country. On of the ways he’s doing that is by encouraging people who like to shoot guns. For that reason, and because it’s such an important story, I want to begin with a long piece at The Washington Post about a school shooting and its after-effects. I’ll post the beginning of the story. Please follow the link to read the rest. It’s powerful and important.

Recess had finally started, so Ava Olsen picked up her chocolate cupcake, then headed outside toward the swings. And that’s when the 7-year-old saw the gun.

It was black and in the hand of someone the first-graders on the playground would later describe as a thin, towering figure with wispy blond hair and angry eyes. Dressed in dark clothes and a baseball cap, he had just driven up in a Dodge Ram, jumping out of the pickup as it rolled into the chain-link fence that surrounded the play area. It was 1:41 on a balmy, blue-sky afternoon in late September, and Ava’s class was just emerging from an open door directly in front of him to join the other kids already outside. At first, a few of them assumed he had come to help with something or say hello.

Then he pulled the trigger.

“I hate my life,” the children heard him scream in the same moment he added Townville Elementary to the long list of American schools redefined by a shooting.

A round struck the shoulder of Ava’s teacher, who was standing at the green metal door, before she yanked it shut. But the shooter kept firing, shattering a glass window.

Near the cubbies inside, 6-year-old Collin Edwards felt his foot vibrate, then burn, as if he had stepped in a fire. A bullet had blown through the inside of his right ankle and popped out beneath his big toe, punching a hole in the sole of his Velcro-strapped sneaker. As his teachers pulled him away from the windows, Collin recalled later, he spotted a puddle of blood spreading across the gray wax tile floor in the hallway. Someone else, he realized, had been hurt, too.

Outside, Ava had dropped her cupcake. The Daisy Scout remembered what her mom had said: If something doesn’t feel right, run. She sprinted toward the far side of the building, rounding a corner to safety. Nowhere in sight, though, was Jacob Hall, the tiny boy with oversize, thick-lensed glasses Ava had decided to marry when they grew up. He had been just a few steps behind her at the door, but she never saw him come out. Ava hoped he was okay.

After reading this heartbreaking story, I want to just forget about our Trumpian nightmare for the rest of the day.

Of course the monster tweeted this morning after taking a long break from his social media addiction. He just can’t quit.

So now the pretend president has accused the former Director of the FBI of a felony–lying under oath.

Philip Bump at the Washington Post: There’s no indication Comey violated the law. Trump may be about to.

President Trump’s declaration that the Thursday testimony of former FBI director James B. Comey was a “total and complete vindication” despite “so many false statements and lies” was the sort of brashly triumphant and loosely-grounded-in-reality statement we’ve come to expect from the commander in chief. It was news that came out a bit later, news about plans to file a complaint against Comey for a revelation he made during that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing meeting, that may end up being more damaging to the president.

CNN and Fox first reported that Trump’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, plans to file complaints with the inspector general of the Justice Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee about Comey’s testimony. At issue was Comey’s revelation that he provided a memo documenting a conversation with Trump to a friend to be shared with the New York Times.

As the news broke, I was on the phone with Stephen Kohn, partner at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection. We’d been talking about where the boundaries lay for Comey in what he could and couldn’t do with the information about his conversations with the president. Kohn’s response to the story about Kasowitz, though, was visceral.

“Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding,” he said. “First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump — though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of criminal misconduct.

“But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”

Vox: Trump’s lawyer: Comey violated executive privilege. 10 legal experts: No, he didn’t.

After the public testimony of former FBI Director James Comey on Thursday, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement. In addition to being riddled with typos, it contained a curious legal argument.

Kasowitz contended that Comey broke the law by leaking memos about his private conversations with the president — what the statement called an “unauthorized disclosure of private information.”

The not-so-subtle implication here is that any and every conversation with the president is privileged, and therefore protected under the law. That’s a rather broad interpretation of executive privilege, and one that 10 legal experts disputed in interviews with Vox.

Executive privilege exists for a reason: to protect against the forced disclosures of classified or confidential executive branch communications. But here’s the problem: The conversations between Trump and Comey were not classified. Moreover, because the president himself has publicly referred to the conversations in question, he has already waived any claim for executive privilege. That Comey is now a private citizen also weakens the Kasowitz’s claim that he’s bound to secrecy.

There is, however, little settled law on the question of executive privilege. So I reached out to 10 legal experts and asked them if Kasowitz’s interpretation of executive privilege makes any sense. Every one of them said it doesn’t.

Read what the experts said at the Vox link.

The Atlantic: The Incompetence Defense.

During former FBI Director James Comey’s dramatic testimony before the Senate on Thursday, Republican senators settled on a pair of strange arguments for why President Trump hadn’t obstructed justice: He didn’t try very hard, or he was really bad at it.

Comey testified that the president asked Comey to shut down the FBI investigation into former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was ousted after lying about his contact with Russian officials, saying, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey testified that he took that statement as “direction.” Republicans weren’t convinced.

“Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?” Idaho Republican Jim Risch asked. Comey said he did not, but New York Times legal reporter Adam Liptak quickly found one such example.

Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma took a similar tack. “If this seems to be something the president is trying to get you to drop it,” Lankford said, “it seems like a light touch to drop it, to bring it up at that point, the day after he had just fired Flynn, to come back here and say, I hope we can let this go, then it never reappears again.”

Texas Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, suggested that firing Comey after not shutting down the Flynn investigation proved Trump wasn’t trying to shut it down. “As a general proposition, if you’re trying to make an investigation go away, is firing an FBI director a good way to make that happen?” Cornyn asked Comey, who replied that “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but I’m hopelessly biased given that I was the one fired.”

David Gomez, a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security and a former FBI agent, said he didn’t find that line of argument persuasive. “I failed to follow Cornyn’s logic. Especially given the public reasons for the firing,” Gomez said. “Firing the man in charge of the FBI—and replacing him with your own man—is exactly what I would expect if you were trying to impede an FBI investigation.”

Republican are at great pains to make excuses for Trump’s behavior. Paul Ryan even claimed it should be overlooked because Trump is new to politics. Do Congressional Republicans even give a sh$t about what happens to our democratic system? That was an academic question.

Matthew Yglesias argues that: The most important Comey takeaway is that congressional Republicans don’t care. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Republicans know something is wrong, but they don’t care

Ezra Klein rightly wrote yesterday that Trump’s presidency is an American crisis.

I would only add that it’s a political crisis. Anyone who has had any occasion to speak to Republican members of Congress or other pillars of the Washington conservative establishment knows they are perfectly aware that Trump is unfit to serve as president.

“Washington conservatives know that reporters are not making up these incredible quotes, or relying only on Democratic holdovers, or getting bits of gossip from the janitor,” as Megan McArdle put it in an excellent Bloomberg View column speaking as a member of the beltway right trying to address the grassroots right. “They know that the Trump administration is in fact leaking like a rusty sieve — from the top on down — and that this is a sign of a president who has, in just four short months, completely lost control over his own hand-picked staff.”

Over lunch, a right-of-center think tanker told me that during the transition his colleagues joked that in this administration, you’d rather get a job in a federal agency than a White House job — because that way you’d stay out of jail when the indictments come down.

But Republicans have decided they aren’t going to address this crisis situation. Instead, they are going to try to manage it in pursuit of the shared agenda of tax cuts, welfare state rollback, and deregulation of banks and polluters.

Anyway . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below. 


Thursday: Live Blog–James Comey Testimony


Good Morning!

James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee will begin soon. This day is likely to go down in history as the beginning of the end of the treasonous Trump administration. Please join us in documenting the hearing and our reactions in real time. Here is Comey’s opening statement, for reference.

Some relevant reads

Philip Allen Lacovara at The Washington Post: I helped prosecute Watergate. Comey’s statement is sufficient evidence for an obstruction of justice case.

Philip Allen Lacovara, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski.

In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice.

Comey proved what Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers carefully avoided admitting in their testimony on Wednesday — that the president had specifically attempted to shut off at least a major piece of what Trump calls the “Russia thing,” the investigation into the misleading statements by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn concerning his role in dealings with the Russians. This kind of presidential intervention in a pending criminal investigation has not been seen, to my knowledge, since the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Comey’s statement meticulously detailed a series of interventions by Trump soliciting his assistance in getting the criminal probe dropped. These details are red meat for a prosecutor. Presumably, the team of experienced criminal prosecutors that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has assembled will be following up on this crucial testimony, which rests on contemporaneous memorandums that Comey was sufficiently alarmed to prepare immediately after receiving the president’s requests.

That both Coats and Rogers denied that they “felt pressured” provides no comfort for the president’s position. The obstruction of justice statute prohibits not only successful interference with pending criminal investigations but also any use of “threats” to “endeavor” to obstruct an investigation. Thus, it is the attempt or objective that is criminal, and Coats and Rogers were apparently unable to deny that the president had solicited their interference in the pending FBI investigation. If Coats and Rogers did not yield to the endeavor, kudos for them, but that is no excuse for the president.

Moreover, Comey’s testimony also supplies the element of “threats.” He vividly describes a dinner with the president on Jan. 27, which the president surprisingly limited to just the two of them. The president asked Comey whether he liked his job and wanted to continue in it, even though, before the inauguration, the president had asked Comey to stay on the job, and Comey had eagerly accepted.

Leaving little doubt about the price of continued retention, the president twice, according to Comey, told him that he expected “loyalty” from Comey, just as he did from everyone else around him.

Head over to the WaPo to read the rest.

The New York Times: ‘Must-See TV’: Free Drinks and Canceled Meetings for Comey’s Testimony.

The schedule has been cleared and the popcorn readied at Evergreen Partners, a strategic communications firm in central New Jersey, where the rule for employees on Thursday morning is simple: No client talk while James B. Comey is speaking.

“We canceled meetings when we saw what time it was on,” said the firm’s president, Karen J. Kessler, who is planning a cheese-and-crackers spread by her office’s 60-inch screen. “It’s must-see TV.”

Americans do not agree on much these days. But millions are expected to pause on Thursday to take in a spectacle already being compared to other political-cultural touchstones, like the Army-McCarthy hearings and Anita Hill’s testimony about Clarence Thomas. This time, Mr. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, will dish to the Senate Intelligence Committee about President Trump, the man who fired him.

By the time details from Mr. Comey’s prepared remarks surfaced on Wednesday — revealing an anxious president pressing his F.B.I. director about a continuing investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia — the hearing had leapt from Beltway curiosity to required viewing, a cliffhanger episode of the nation’s real-life reality show.

C-Span, this is not. (Although C-Span will be covering it.) Every national broadcast network — along with an alphabet soup of cable stations from CNBC to HLN — plans to carry the 10 a.m. hearing live. Bars in Houston, San Francisco and Washington are opening early. Schoolteachers are remaking lesson plans to discuss the testimony instead.

Adding to the anticipation: Mr. Trump is expected to be among the viewers, and there is speculation that he may respond to Mr. Comey on Twitter in real-time — “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in the West Wing.

“They really should declare a national holiday,” said Sally Quinn, the journalist and the doyenne of Washington’s social circuit, “since no work is going to get done.”

But this is serious business, and here are a couple of links to serious discussions of Comey’s statement.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: Initial Comments on James Comey’s Written Testimony.

Jack Goldsmith at Lawfare: Two Reflections on the Comey Statement.

I’m planning to watch the entire hearing and re-read the recent posts about it on the company website of North Shore Advisory Inc.. The cable networks have already begun their coverage. Even the broadcast networks are cancelling programming to show the Comey testimony, which begins at 10AM. Will Republicans continue to support Trump after this? Probably. But how much longer can they last before they accept the inevitable?

Please post your thoughts and any recommended links in the comment thread. And away we go!


Tuesday Reads

Posted by Bette Midler on Twitter 6/4/17 https://twitter.com/BetteMidler/status/871494188331786240

Good Morning!!

Just looking at the headlines this morning, it’s hard to see how Trump can last much longer. His administration seems to be crumbling under the weight of Trump’s own stubbornness and stupidity. I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll just start with this incredible story from The Daily Beast (emphasis added):

White House Looked at Dropping Russia Sanctions—Even After Firing Michael Flynn, by Kimberly Dozier.

The White House explored unilaterally easing sanctions on Russia’s oil industry as recently as late March, arguing that decreased Russian oil production could harm the American economy, according to former U.S. officials.

State Department officials argued successfully that easing those sanctions would actually hurt the U.S. energy sector, according to those former officials and email exchanges reviewed by The Daily Beast….

the March NSC request to the State Department, asking its experts to consider the possible damage of U.S. sanctions on the Russian oil industry, came under the tenure of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, long after Flynn resigned because of misleading the vice president about conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington about lifting sanctions.

A senior Trump administration official said NSC strategist Kevin Harrington was simply examining the sanctions on Russia and trying to determine their impact, as part of the review of overall policy toward Russia.

So much for the sterling reputation of HR McMaster. I wonder who gave the emails to The Daily Beast? Harrington, who had almost no government experience tried to claim that the sanctions on Russia were hurting the U.S. economy. State Department officials had to explain the facts of life to him.

In the March email, the State Department official explained to Harrington why helping Russia’s oil industry would damage the U.S. energy market, in particular, the shale oil industry.

“We explained, you’ve got it backwards. There’s an oil glut. The reason global oil prices originally collapsed is our shale oil,” the former U.S. official said in an interview, speaking anonymously to describe the interagency conversations with the White House.

In the email, the State Department official wrote “Russian production competes with US tight oil production at prices above $50/bbl,” meaning $50 a barrel. He was referring to the U.S. shale oil industry’s ability to make more money as long as the cost of oil stays above $50.

Please read the whole article. These excerpts don’t begin to demonstrate how idiotic these Trump people actually are.

McCay Coppins has a fascinating piece at The Atlantic about how Trump’s crazy management style will likely lead to this downfall: What Trump Really Fears.

As the blast radius of the Russia investigation continues to expand, Donald Trump is facing an unnerving new reality: The fate of his presidency may now hinge on the motley, freewheeling crew of lieutenants and loyalists who have long populated his entourage.

Last week, a subpoena for Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was approved as part of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the presidential election. With that, Cohen was added to a range of Trump allies who are reportedly entangled in the investigation—from outer-orbit figures like Roger Stone and Carter Page, to more visible senior advisers like Michael Flynn and Boris Epshteyn.

Sources close to the president say there is growing concern in the White House about what skeletons may emerge as investigators comb through a coterie of aides, past and present, who would have done virtually anything to win favor with Trump.

“My fear is that a bunch of people were freelancing—doing things not thinking about the repercussions, but thinking Trump would be so impressed by it,” said one person close to the president. He said that with all the resources the government is putting toward the investigation, “they’re going to want a return.” And in a climate like that, any misguided meeting, bluntly worded email, or undisclosed contact with a Russian official—whether or not Trump himself knew about it—could surface as an incriminating bombshell.

On Trump’s management methods:

Long before he entered politics, Trump established a managerial M.O. that came to govern his universe of aides, allies, and hangers-on. Essentially, he populated his team with a cast of scrappy, hard-charging mini-Trumps—people who idolized their boss, and sought to emulate him in every way—and then infused them all with an eat-what-you-kill ethos. Employees are rarely paid impressive salaries at first, but nor are they micromanaged. Instead, they are encouraged to hustle their way up the food chain, competing ferociously with each other to win Trump’s respect, and always seeking out new ways to prove their value.

“He likes to pit advisers against each other,” said one former campaign aide. “He likes the infighting … It’s definitely an environment where you might feel pressured to go the free-range-kid model and say, ‘Hey, let’s see what I can drum up to impress him with.’”

Again, please go read the whole thing. We may be fortunate that the Russians picked such a moronic candidate to support.

Paul Waldman reacts to the Coppins piece at The Week: Trump’s unwinnable war against his own administration.

If you’re like most people, you’ve had a boss you couldn’t stand. But what if your boss couldn’t stand you either? And what if he felt the same way about lots of your coworkers? And if he seemed to be trying to destroy your organization from the inside, not merely through incompetence but through genuine malice? How weird would that be?

Pretty darn weird, as those in the executive branch of the United States government could tell you. Because right now it appears as though President Trump has practically gone to war against his own administration.

Even at the best of times, working for Trump is no picnic. “He likes to pit advisers against each other,” a former campaign aide told McKay Coppins of The Atlantic. “He likes the infighting.” In theory a healthy spirit of friendly competition could produce better results, as everyone vies to get that “Employee of the Month” mug to put on their desk and win the admiring glances of their colleagues. On the other hand, it could devolve into an endless demolition derby of schemes, recriminations, and leaks to the press about how the other factions are a bunch of idiots. Which is what the White House is like right now.

But the real problem is less the staff’s conflicts with each other than the fact that the president seems terribly unhappy with the people who toil in his employ, particularly when they’re trying to restrain him from making a fool of himself or creating policy nightmares.

A case in point: Trump is now turning on one of his most loyal supporters, according to The New York Times: Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Few Republicans were quicker to embrace President Trump’s campaign last year than Jeff Sessions, and his reward was one of the most prestigious jobs in America. But more than four months into his presidency, Mr. Trump has grown sour on Mr. Sessions, now his attorney general, blaming him for various troubles that have plagued the White House.

The discontent was on display on Monday in a series of stark early-morning postings on Twitter in which the president faulted his own Justice Department for its defense of his travel ban on visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Sessions’s department of devising a “politically correct” version of the ban — as if the president had nothing to do with it.

In private, the president’s exasperation has been even sharper. He has intermittently fumed for months over Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people close to Mr. Trump who insisted on anonymity to describe internal conversations. In Mr. Trump’s view, they said, it was that recusal that eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel who took over the investigation.

Behind-the-scenes frustration would not be unprecedented in the Oval Office. Other presidents have become estranged from the Justice Department over time, notably President Bill Clinton, who bristled at Attorney General Janet Reno’s decisions to authorize investigations into him and his administration, among other things. But Mr. Trump’s tweets on Monday made his feelings evident for all to see and raised questions about how he is managing his own administration.

“They wholly undercut the idea that there is some rational process behind the president’s decisions,” said Walter E. Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general under Mr. Clinton. “I believe it is unprecedented for a president to publicly chastise his own Justice Department.”

Read more at the NYT.

Trump whined on Twitter yesterday that Democrats are blocking his appointments.

But the real problem is that Trump himself has announced appointments and then failed to submit them to the Senate!

Politico: How Trump is stalling his own nominees.

President Donald Trump is lashing out at Democrats for allegedly stalling his appointments and agenda, but it’s his own administration that is frequentlRy sitting on the necessary paperwork for nominees.

Trump tapped Kevin McAleenan on March 30 to lead Customs and Border Protection, a critical position for his drive to revamp U.S. immigration policy. But the White House didn’t formally submit his nomination to the Senate for confirmation until May 22, nearly eight weeks later.

And McAleenan’s nomination is far from alone in taking weeks to be sent to the Senate, where Republicans are growing impatient and bewildered with the Trump White House’s historic lag in filling administration posts.

Trump’s two nominees for the Export-Import Bank board — ex-GOP Reps. Scott Garrett and Spencer Bachus — haven’t been submitted to the Senate, despite being named April 14. Trump rolled out a batch of 10 judicial nominations to much fanfare on May 8, but two of them have yet to arrive on Capitol Hill.

And Dan Brouillette, nominated by Trump to be Rick Perry’s chief deputy at the Energy Department, was announced on April 3, yet his nomination wasn’t sent by the White House until May 16.

Read the entire shocking story. It’s hard to believe how dysfunctional this administration really is.

As the Comey testimony on Friday approaches, Republicans are growing anxious about Trump’s inability to control himself, according Robert Costa at The Washington Post: As Trump lashes out, Republicans grow uneasy.

President Trump, after days of lashing out angrily at the London mayor and federal courts in the wake of the London Bridge terrorist attack, faces a convergence of challenges this week that threatens to exacerbate the fury that has gripped him — and that could further hobble a Republican agenda that has slowed to a crawl on Capitol Hill.

Instead of hunkering down and delicately navigating the legal and political thicket — as some White House aides have suggested — Trump spent much of Monday launching volleys on Twitter, unable to resist continuing, in effect, as his own lawyer, spokesman, cheerleader and media watchdog.

Trump escalated his criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, incorrectly stating that Khan had told Londoners to not be “alarmed” about terrorism. He vented about the Justice Department, which he said pushed a “politically correct” version of his policy to block immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries, which Trump signed before it was halted in court. He also complained that Senate Democrats are “taking forever to approve” his appointees and ambassadors.

Inside the White House, top officials have in various ways gently suggested to Trump over the past week that he should leave the feuding to surrogates, according to two people who were not authorized to speak publicly. But Trump has repeatedly shrugged off that advice, these people said.

On Republican reaction:

Trump’s refusal to disengage from the daily storm of news — coming ahead of former FBI director James B. Comey’s highly anticipated public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday — is both unsurprising and unsettling to many Republicans, who are already skittish about the questions they may confront in the aftermath of the hearing. In particular, they foresee Democratic accusations that Trump’s exchanges with Comey about the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign were an effort to obstruct justice.

Some Republicans fear that Trump’s reactions will only worsen the potential damage.

Gee, no kidding. Some Republicans are going to go down with Trump and they’ll deserve what they get.

One more and then I’ll put the rest of my links in the comment thread. It seems Trump had a hard time getting a lawyer to defend him in the Russia investigation.

 

Michael Isikoff: Four top law firms turned down requests to represent Trump.

Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent President Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, according to five sources familiar with discussions about the matter.

The unwillingness of some of the country’s most prestigious attorneys and their law firms to represent Trump has complicated the administration’s efforts to mount a coherent defense strategy to deal with probes being conducted by four congressional committees as well as Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

The president’s chief lawyer now in charge of the case is Marc E. Kasowitz, a tough New York civil litigator who for years has aggressively represented Trump in multiple business and public relations disputes — often with threats of countersuits and menacing public statements — but who has little experience dealing with complex congressional and Justice Department investigations that are inevitably influenced by media coverage and public opinion.

Before Kasowitz was retained, however, some of the biggest law firms and their best-known attorneys turned down overtures when they were sounded out by White House officials to see if they would be willing to represent the president, the sources said.

Among them, sources said, were some of the most high-profile names in the legal profession, including Brendan Sullivan of Williams & Connolly; Ted Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Paul Clement and Mark Filip of Kirkland & Ellis; and Robert Giuffra of Sullivan & Cromwell.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Schadenfreude is So Much Fun

 

Good Afternoon!!

I’m having one of those days when I just don’t want to deal with the news, and now WordPress has made my day even worse. I was plugging along and had written quite a bit, when suddenly my entire post disappeared from the editor. I had been saving it, but there were no saved edits, no way to recover what I’d done. So now I’ll try again.

Recapping the breaking news from last night:

AP via Business Insider: The special counsel investigating Trump and Russia will include the Manafort case and possibly a look at Jeff Sessions.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The special counsel investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia’s government has taken over a separate criminal probe involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and may expand his inquiry to investigate the roles of the attorney general and deputy attorney general in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, The Associated Press has learned.

The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Manafort, who was forced to resign as Trump campaign chairman in August amid questions over his business dealings years ago in Ukraine, predated the 2016 election and the counterintelligence probe that in July began investigating possible collusion between Moscow and associates of Trump.

The move to consolidate the matters, involving allegations of kleptocracy of Ukrainian government funds, indicates that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is assuming a broad mandate in his new role running the sensational investigation. The expansiveness of Mueller’s investigation was described to the AP. No one familiar with the matter has been willing to discuss the scope of his investigation on the record because it is just getting underway and because revealing details could complicate its progress.

In an interview separately Friday with the AP, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein acknowledged that Mueller could expand his inquiry to include Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s own roles in the decision to fire Comey, who was investigating the Trump campaign. Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel to take over the investigation, wrote the memorandum intended to justify Trump’s decision to fire Comey. Sessions met with Trump and Rosenstein to discuss Trump’s decision to fire him despite Sessions’ pledge not to become involved in the Russia case.

Rosenstein told the AP that if he were to become a subject of Mueller’s investigation, he would recuse himself from any oversight of Mueller.

Reuters via CNBC: Special counsel Mueller to probe ex-Trump aide Flynn’s Turkey ties.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible ties between the Trump election campaign and Russia, is expanding his probe to include a grand jury investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, three sources told Reuters.

The move means Mueller’s politically charged inquiry will now look into Flynn’s paid work as a lobbyist for a Turkish businessman in 2016, in addition to contacts between Russian officials and Flynn and other Trump associates during and after the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a deal between Flynn and Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin as part of a grand jury criminal probe, according to a subpoena seen by Reuters.

Alptekin’s company, Netherlands-based Inovo BV, paid Flynn’s consultancy $530,000 between September and November to produce a documentary and research on Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric living in the United States. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for a failed coup last July.

Alptekin, an ally of Erdogan, told Reuters he hired Flynn to provide research on how Gulen is “poisoning the atmosphere” between Turkey and the United States. Gulen has denied any role in the coup and dismisses Turkey’s allegations that he heads a terrorist organization.

The grand jury in Virginia has issued subpoenas to some of Flynn’s business associates involved in the work for Inovo, two people familiar with the probe say. The subpoena seen by Reuters seeks bank records, documents and communications related to Flynn, his company, Flynn Intel Group, Alptekin and Inovo.

The Lasso of Truth

Pete Williams at NBC News: Special Counsel Robert Mueller Taking Close Control of Russia Investigation.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is already closely managing the Russian election meddling investigation he was appointed to oversee, receiving daily briefings and weighing in on investigative tactics, a spokesman told NBC News Friday….

Because Mueller is only the second special counsel appointed under rules drawn up nearly two decades ago, there were few precedents to guide how he would oversee the investigation. He could have chosen to take a more removed role, instead of overseeing developments closely.

“Is he going to play a direct role? Yes, he’s very involved in supervising the investigation,” said Peter Carr, the spokesman for the special counsel.

Federal rules specify that a special counsel will have “the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States attorney.”

Mueller will act much as a U.S. attorney would in supervising a local FBI investigation, Carr added.

Excellent! And to top off the schadenfreude, Trump toady Devin Nunes is in trouble again.

The Washington Post: Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee asked for ‘unmaskings’ of Americans.

The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee asked U.S. spy agencies late last year to reveal the names of U.S. individuals or organizations contained in classified intelligence on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, engaging in the same practice that President Trump has accused the Obama administration of abusing, current and former officials said.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has since cast the practice of “unmasking” of U.S. individuals and organizations mentioned in classified reports as an abuse of surveillance powers by the outgoing Obama administration.

Trump has argued that investigators should focus their attention on former officials leaking names from intelligence reports, rather than whether the Kremlin coordinated its activities with the Trump campaign, an allegation he has denied. “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama administration,” Trump tweeted Thursday.

So it seems Nunes is still *colluding* with Trump to derail the Russia investigation. A couple more  Nunes stories to check out:

Huffington Post: Top Intel Dem: Devin Nunes ‘Requiring Sign off’ On Russia Probe Subpoenas.

The Atlantic: The Unrecusal of Devin Nunes.

All of the above investigations are great, but I have to believe that the investigation of Jared Kushner is the one that will finally bring down Trump.

Here are the latest Kushner stories, along with one relevant old article.

The Guardian: Jared Kushner’s redemptive mission threatened by tangled Russian web.

In the middle of December last year, Jared Kushner, the smooth-skinned, impeccably tailored and inscrutable son-in-law of Donald Trump, was riding high. He was basking in the glow of having helped his father-in-law become the most powerful man on earth; was about to take up the role of senior adviser to the President of the United States, which would make him one of the most influential people in the administration; and on the home front he and his wife Ivanka Trump were sitting on a real estate pile worth up to $740m.

If he’d just let his elegantly thin-lapelled suits and pinstriped ties do the talking, he might still be atop that wave, lauded by some as the one voice of reason and calm in a wild and unpredictable White House. But he didn’t rest there.

Instead, he allowed himself to be lured by the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, to a meeting with a top Russian banker, an alumnus of the country’s top spy academy with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Details of the discussion with Sergey Gorkov remain sketchy, but according to Gorkov himself Kushner was present in his capacity as CEO of Kushner Companies, the family real estate empire from which he had yet to step aside in preparation for his move into the White House.

Gorkov’s description suggests that money matters may have been on the table between the two men. Even more incendiary was the alleged proposal that passed between the two men about setting up a back-channel between the Trump inner circle and the Kremlin, as revealed by the Washington Post.

With that one encounter, barely 30 minutes long, Kushner eviscerated his carefully cultivated image and propelled himself into the center of the inquiry into possible links between Trumpworld and the Russians. He now finds himself as a person of interest, though not a target, of the FBI investigation.

Savor the rest at the Guardian.

The New York Times Editorial Board: The Problem With Jared Kushner.

What are we supposed to make of the news that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, met with the Russian ambassador in December to discuss establishing a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities?

Start with the reactions from America’s intelligence community, whose job it is to monitor foreign actors’ attempts to steal the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

Michael Hayden, the former C.I.A. director, said this: “What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or an appropriate idea?” Another former top intelligence official called it “extremely naïve or absolutely crazy.” [….]

Stupidity, paranoia, malevolence — it’s hard to distinguish among competing explanations for the behavior of people in this administration. In the case of Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador, and his meeting that month with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker with close ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence, even the most benign of the various working theories suggests that Mr. Kushner, who had no experience in politics or diplomacy before Mr. Trump’s campaign, is in way over his head.

Click on the link to read the rest.

The old (March 29) but relevant story is by Trump biographer Timothy L. O’Brien at Bloomberg: Senators, Please Ask Jared Kushner About 666 Fifth Avenue.

In a happy moment in the otherwise cloudy world of the Trump family and the flood of financial conflicts they’ve carted into Washington, a major Chinese investor has decided not to pour billions of dollars into a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the Jared Kushner clan.

Had this deal gone forward — the effect would have been to bail Kushner out of a huge, misbegotten investment while letting his family take home at least $400 million and retain a minority ownership stake in the building — it would have compromised President Donald Trump’s diplomacy with China.

The background: Anbang, an insurer and prolific deal-maker close to China’s government, had considered investing $4 billion in 666 Fifth Avenue. Kushner had overpaid for the building in 2007, when he bought it with the help of bank loans for $1.8 billion. The financial crisis ensued, occupancy rates plummeted and Kushner had to be rescued by outside investors to keep the troubled building afloat. Anbang’s investment would have valued the building at a handsome $2.85 billion, and also refinanced about $1.15 billion in debt.

The possibility of a transaction brought scrutiny from two Bloomberg news reporters, Caleb Melby and David Kocieniewski, as well as from Congress and the New York Times. I discussed it in a column here two weeks ago. And for good reason: Kushner is a senior White House adviser who has Trump’s ear on foreign policy. The math of Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law being saved from a reckless investment by China presented all sorts of conflicts of interest and the potential for disastrous policy moves by the White House.

So Anbang is now gone and all has been made right? Well, no.

Kushner’s family still owns a building that needs a financial lifeline, so 666 Fifth Avenue presents something that Congress may want to examine more closely when Jared Kushner meets with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of an inquiry into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

It seems pretty likely that Kushner’s meeting with that *sanctioned* Russian banker was about finding money for the Kusnher family business.

The Washington Post: Explanations for Kushner’s meeting with head of Kremlin-linked bank don’t match up.

The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank’s chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December.

The bank maintained this week that the session was held as part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. The White House says the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The contradiction is deepening confusion over Kushner’s interactions with the Russians as the president’s son-in-law emerges as a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Moscow and the Trump team.

I’ll end there, because this post is getting way too long.

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Spy Games

A Russian Tupolev Tu-160 supersonic strategic bomber and Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers fly above the Kremlin cathedrals, May 4, 2017 (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images).

Good Morning!!

As as become the norm, two new Trump Russia stories dropped last night and another one this this morning.

Despite the ongoing investigation, Trump is considering reversing one of the punishments that Obama meted out to Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.

The Washington Post reports: Trump administration moves to return Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.

The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”

Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.

Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges.

Could they be any more obvious? It looks like Trump caved on getting anything in return for making it easier for Russia to spy on us. What did Putin threaten him with?

In Moscow on Wednesday, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov said Russia was “taking into account the difficult internal political situation for the current administration” but retained the option to reciprocate for what he called the “expropriation” of Russian property “if these steps are not somehow adjusted by the U.S. side,” the news outlet Sputnik reported….

Any concessions to Moscow could prove controversial while administration and former Trump campaign officials are under congressional and special counsel investigation for alleged ties to Russia.

No kidding.

Late last night, CNN broke the news that Jeff Sessions is suspected of having another undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador. First on CNN: Sources: Congress investigating another possible Sessions-Kislyak meeting.

Congressional investigators are examining whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had an additional private meeting with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential campaign, according to Republican and Democratic Hill sources and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation.

Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions, a source with knowledge tells CNN. They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address. Prior to the speech, then-Sen. Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended a small VIP reception with organizers, diplomats and others.

In addition to congressional investigators, the FBI is seeking to determine the extent of interactions the Trump campaign team may have had with Russia’s ambassador during the event as part of its broader counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the election.

The FBI is looking into whether there was an additional private meeting at the Mayflower the same day, sources said. Neither Hill nor FBI investigators have yet concluded whether a private meeting took place — and acknowledge that it is possible any additional meeting was incidental.

If this is true, Sessions needs to resign.

This morning The Guardian reports that Nigel Farage is under investigation by the FBI.

Nigel Farage is a “person of interest” in the US counter-intelligence investigation that is looking into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Guardian has been told.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation said the former Ukip leader had raised the interest of FBI investigators because of his relationships with individuals connected to both the Trump campaign and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder whom Farage visited in March. He’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again….

Farage has not been accused of wrongdoing and is not a suspect or a target of the US investigation. But being a person of interest means investigators believe he may have information about the acts that are under investigation and he may therefore be subject to their scrutiny.

Sources who spoke to the Guardian said it was Farage’s proximity to people at the heart of the investigation that was being examined as an element in their broader inquiry into how Russia may have worked with Trump campaign officials to influence the US election.

“One of the things the intelligence investigators have been looking at is points of contact and persons involved,” one source said. “If you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange and Trump associates the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage.

“He’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again. There’s a lot of attention being paid to him.”

The source mentioned Farage’s links with Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time political adviser who has admitted being in contact with Guccifer 2.0, a hacker whom US intelligence agencies believe to be a Kremlin agent.

More Trump Russia news

Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker: Trump’s ‘Good Job’ Call to Roger Stone.

On May 11th Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again political adviser for several decades, had just wrapped up a pair of morning television appearances when, according to two sources with direct knowledge, he received a call from the President.

Just a night earlier, Trump claimed that he was no longer in touch with Stone. In the weeks and months ahead, the relationship between Trump and Stone is expected to be a significant focus of investigators, and their call raises an important question: Why is the President still reaching out to figures in the middle of the Russia investigations? Previous reports have noted that Trump has also been in touch with Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, two figures targeted by the F.B.I.’s Russia probe. Add Stone to the list of former top Trump aides who, despite being under investigation, are still winning attention from the President….

 

On May 9th, Trump fired Comey. Stone’s role in advising Trump on the abrupt dismissal of the person investigating the President’s campaign and advisers, including Stone himself, immediately became a subject of intrigue.

CNN reported that Stone “was among those who recommended to the President that he fire Comey,” a potentially explosive revelation that was also reported by Politico. Firing the F.B.I. director, according to several legal scholars, could be obstruction of justice. This made it worse. The President of the United States was not just talking to one of the subjects of the F.B.I. probe but also, if the CNN and Politico reports were accurate, colluding with Stone to terminate the head of the investigation. Trump quickly tried to contain the damage.

“The Roger Stone report on @CNN is false – Fake News,” he tweeted. “Have not spoken to Roger in a long time – had nothing to do with my decision.”

Stone himself was more circumspect. “I am not the source of Politico/CNN stories claiming I urged @realDonaldTrump 2 fire Comey,” he tweeted. “Never made such claim. I support decision 100%.” As for Trump’s claim that the two men haven’t spoken “in a long time,” Stone insisted they had actually spoken “fairly recently.”

Trump seems unable to stop himself from reaching out to those who apparently helped him coordinate with Russia during the campaign. Is he trying to get forced out of the presidency or is he just plain stupid?

…aside from contradicting Trump’s claim of not talking to Stone, the call is unusual for another reason. “The conventional wisdom is that when someone has exposure to obstruction-of-justice liability, as Trump certainly does, he should avoid unnecessary reaching out to others involved in the investigation, lest he make things worse for himself,” Norman Eisen, the ethics counsel in the Obama White House, said. “But Trump is famously unorthodox. Indeed, that is how he got into this mess in the first place.”

He added, “Trump just added another item to the investigators’ checklist.”

ABC News: Former Trump adviser Carter Page eager to provide ‘straight dialogue’ in Russia probe.

The one-time foreign policy advisor to President Donald Trump, who has since been swept up in the congressional investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign, told lawmakers this week that he is eager to come to Washington, D.C., to testify.

“In the interest of finally providing the American people with some accurate information at long last, I hope that we can proceed with this straight dialogue soon,” Page wrote in a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Page told ABC News that the committee told him they are not yet ready to interview him.

For his part, Page said he told ABC News he is “more than cooperating” with the congressional probe.

But is he talking to the FBI?

One more before I wrap this up. Politico: Russia escalates spy games after years of U.S. neglect.

In the throes of the 2016 campaign, the FBI found itself with an escalating problem: Russian diplomats, whose travel was supposed to be tracked by the State Department, were going missing.

The diplomats, widely assumed to be intelligence operatives, would eventually turn up in odd places, often in middle-of-nowhere USA. One was found on a beach, nowhere near where he was supposed to be. In one particularly bizarre case, relayed by a U.S. intelligence official, another turned up wandering around in the middle of the desert. Interestingly, both seemed to be lingering where underground fiber optics cables tend to run.

According to another U.S. intelligence official, “They find these guys driving around in circles in Kansas. It’s a pretty aggressive effort.”

It’s a trend that has led intelligence officials to conclude the Kremlin is waging a quiet effort to map the United States’ telecommunications infrastructure, perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it.

“Half the time they’re never confronted,” the official, who declined to be identified discussing intelligence matters, said of the incidents. “We assume they’re mapping our infrastructure.”

Now that is scary.

As the country — and Washington in particular — borders on near-obsession over whether affiliates of Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin to swing the 2016 presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials say Moscow’s espionage ground game is growing stronger and more brazen than ever.

It’s a problem that’s sparking increasing concern from the intelligence community, including the FBI. After neglecting the Russian threat for a decade, the U.S. was caught flat-footed by Moscow’s election operation. Now, officials are scrambling to figure out how to contain a sophisticated intelligence network that’s festered and strengthened at home after years’ worth of inattention.

Please read the rest at Politico.

What else is happening? Let us know in the comment thread below and have a tremendous Thursday!